OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Less than an hour after the Baltimore Ravens placed the nonexclusive franchise tag on quarterback Lamar Jackson, former Ravens safety Tony Jefferson made a prediction.
“Lamar will be a Raven,” Jefferson tweeted Tuesday. “They’ll let the market dictate his contract. I also believe they’ll match any offer he accepts. Two first-round picks are simply not enough to replace his rare talent and his value to the franchise.”
History says the Ravens have a good shot at keeping Jackson, who is the only player in NFL history to throw 25 touchdowns and rush for 1,000 yards in a season (he did it twice), and one of just two players – Tom Brady being the other – in NFL history to be voted a unanimous MVP. In the 30 years of NFL free agency, defensive tackle Sean Gilbert is the only player to receive the nonexclusive tag, sign an offer sheet and end up with that new team, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was 25 years ago when Gilbert was tagged by Washington and left for Carolina.
Two former NFL executives are unsure whether the nonexclusive tag increases the chance of Jackson’s return to Baltimore. Both agreed the only certainty is the tag will jump-start stalled negotiations that have spanned 25 months.
Under the nonexclusive tag, Jackson, who is not represented by an agent, can begin talking to other teams on Wednesday. If he signs an offer sheet, Baltimore has five days to match, or receive two first-round picks as compensation.
“It does kind of create a sense of urgency where it either gets worked out or it won’t,” said Mike Tannenbaum, a former NFL general manager who is currently an ESPN analyst.
Jackson, 26, has until July 17 to work out a multiyear deal with another team, and Ravens officials have acknowledged over the past two years that it’s been difficult at times to get Jackson to negotiate.
At the end of this season, Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta was asked about the chances of getting a deal done with Jackson and he replied, “It certainly takes two to tango.”
“I think [the nonexclusive tag] does give Lamar a chance to prove what he’s told people all along and ask for what he wants from others,” said Randy Mueller, a former NFL GM who is now the director of player personnel for the XFL’s Seattle Sea Dragons. “I guess the only downside if you’re the Ravens is: Do you have a plan in case he does bring back a fully guaranteed deal? That’s the rub in a nutshell, really.”
The perception by Jefferson, and others, is the Ravens are set to match any signed offer sheet because they would only receive two first-rounders for losing Jackson. That would appear to be below market value considering the Houston Texans got three first-round picks as well as a third-rounder and fourth-rounder for Deshaun Watson a year ago. It’s not an exact comparison because the Browns were put in a position where they had to overpay for Watson, who had reportedly narrowed his decision to the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints after initially rejecting Cleveland as part of his no-trade agreement.
The Browns then gave Watson a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million deal, and sources told ESPN last year that Jackson wants a similar contract and turned down a five-year extension offer worth over $250 million with $133 million guaranteed at signing. The Ravens have balked at guaranteeing the full amount.
According to the website Over The Cap, Baltimore wouldn’t be able to create enough salary cap room to match a front-loaded contract that exceeds a cap charge of $80 to $90 million in the first year. The only teams with the cap flexibility to put together a deal like that are: the Falcons, Texans, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts and the Las Vegas Raiders.
Shortly after Jackson was tagged Tuesday, ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported the Falcons would not be pursuing Jackson, and later ESPN’s Jeff Darlington tweeted the Dolphins would be sticking with Tua Tagovailoa.
“I wouldn’t read into that yet. Things can change,” Tannenbaum said about teams lacking interest initially. “Maybe a team like Tennessee, who doesn’t need a quarterback today, needs one, or maybe it’s Tampa Bay. Who knows? A lot can happen between now and [July 17].”
Then, if Jackson signs an offer sheet, it will be up to the Ravens to make a decision.